Tuesday, April 10, 2018

Treasure Hunters

National Treasure
Director John Turteltaub
Cast: Nicolas Cage, Diane Kruger, Jon Voight, Sean Bean, Justin Bartha, Harvey Keitel, Christopher Plummer
Released: November 19, 2004
Viewed in theaters: November 27, 2004

Picture it: Lincoln, Nebraska, Thanksgiving 2004. My family is debating over which movie we should see one evening. I want to see National Treasure. My brother wants to see Alexander. I don't know what my parents voted for, but one or both of them must have wanted to see Alexander (the Oliver Stone movie with Colin Farrell and Angelina Jolie...I have a feeling most people have forgotten about the existence of that movie!) because we ended up seeing that. I was so mad because that movie looked like a total snooze fest and I was right! I was so bored during the three plus hours I sat through it. (It could have been only a little over two hours for all I know, but it definitely felt LONG!) Even my family agreed it was a terrible and boring movie and pretty much admitted we chose the wrong movie. Now, National Treasure isn't the best movie in the world, but at least it's a hell of a lot more entertaining and fun than some long drawn out historical movie. (There's a good bet I will never review Alexander for this blog!) Now I did end up seeing this movie with my mom (she must have either voted with me or didn't care which movie we saw or maybe she just felt bad for me) the next day, but it still infuriates me that I wasted three hours of my life watching Alexander!

This is probably the only family friendly movie Nicolas Cage has ever made. This and its sequel, which I've only seen once (I've seen this one a handful of times). Oh, and that Christmas movie he did with Tea Leoni. There's probably a few others he's made too, but they seem to be very rare for the actor who is mostly known for R-rated action movies. See Rock, The. Or Con Air. Or Face/Off. In this Indiana Jones/Where in the World is Carmen Sandiego?/The Goonies hybrid, he plays Ben Gates whose ancestors were part of some secret society who hid a bunch of treasure. He's had his eye on the prize since his great grandfather (played by Christopher Plummer) told him the story as a young boy, but it isn't until "current day" 2004 when he gets anywhere near finding it. 

With a clue that the treasure "lies with Charlotte", he leads an expedition to the Arctic which includes his right-hand man, Riley (Justin Bartha), who's pretty much in the movie to be the comic relief and a post-Boromir, pre-Ned Stark Sean Bean who plays his partner turned arch nemesis, Ian, and then some other guy who's Ian's crony. Not only do they find the ship in the ice, after, like, five seconds of chipping away, but they find the most important part of the ship which provides a clue. They figure out the clue pertains to the Declaration of Independence that will lead them to the treasure. Now that I think about it, this movie is a precursor to The DaVinci Code. Ian wants to steal the DoI, but Ben puts his foot down and says absolutely not. We then learn that Ian and his crony are bad guys as they try to kill Ben and Riley, and while they escape, they don't succeed in killing the two good guys.

When they return to D.C., Ben tries to warn anyone who will listen that the DoI is in danger of being stolen, but no one takes them seriously because there is no possible way for the DoI to be stolen because it is perfectly safe and secure. "The Declaration of Independence" is uttered many times during the film. It wasn't until halfway through the movie when I realized I should have been keeping count of how many times it was said, but by then, it was too late. I'm pretty sure if there was a category in The Guinness Book of World Records for the most times the phrase "The Declaration of Independence " is uttered in a movie, National Treasure would be victorious. Since the FBI won't listen to them, they go to the National Archives and warn Dr. Abigail Chase (Diane Kruger) who also dismisses them and assures them the artifact is very safe.

Ben believes the only way to keep the DoI safe is to steal it himself. At least he will make sure its returned while Ian and his cronies won't care if it gets mucked up in the process of stealing it and using it to find the treasure. Plus, let's be honest, Ben wants that sweet treasure for himself. Riley tells Ben there is no possible way for them to steal the DoI because it's protected by security beyond measure, but Ben has found a loophole and plans to steal it when it's being treated in the preservation room, the only place where it won't be under (so much) lock and key. He and Riley devise this big plan that, of course, goes without a hitch. First, they have to make sure the DoI will be sent to the preservation room so Riley goes to the National Archives and surreptitiously points a laser light at it or something so a warning goes off to indicate that something has been tampered with it. No idea if this is a real thing or not. You know, I have been to D.C. a handful of times (maybe four) and I have never seen the DoI.

They plan to have the DoI in the preservation room the same night a big gala will be going on at the National Archives building. Ben will be the one doing the stealing while Riley stays in the van to direct him and warn him if there's any problems. Ben goes in as a maintenance man (he stole the identity of another maintenance man so he would be on the list...or something...I don't know...this whole plan is so convoluted) and is able to get through, no questions asked. I did think it was funny when Riley and Ben pull up at the building right before they're about to pull off the heist and as Ben is getting out of the van, Riley asks him, "Are you sure this is a good idea?" and Ben just slams the door, totally ignoring him.

Once Ben is in, he changes into a tuxedo in the restroom. He does this right in the open, and not in a stall. I at least hoped he locked the door so nobody would see him changing out of a maintenance outfit in a tuxedo because that wouldn't look suspicious! He enters the party where he chats with Abigail, taking her glass of champagne so she can take another glass for her date. You see, this is all part of the plan because they need her fingerprints to get into the preservation room. Ben will use a black light to see which keys she has pressed for the password and they figure out it's "Valley Forge".

Nobody is in the preservation room at all, so Ben is able to get the DoI. However, he's not alone for long as Ian and his cronies have the same idea to steal it that night and they're about to enter the room. Ben takes the whole thing, bullet proof glass and all that the DoI is surrounded in. It's a good thing he has it because once he's on the elevator and the bad guys enter, they start shooting at him and he uses it as a shield. He takes out the DoI and rolls it up like a poster. My favorite part of the movie is when he goes into the gift shop and the cashier sees it on his person and asks him if he's trying to steal that. She tells him it's $35 and he says, "For this? That's a lot." Haha, for the real DoI? I would say that's a steal! He ends up paying $70 because he buys that and then gets a replica to throw off Ian later.

Abigail figure out what's going on and she gets involved in a car chase and this is when Ben gives Ian the fake DoI. Ben, Riley, and Abigail end up at Ben's father's (Jon Voight) house. Since Ben used a credit card to pay for the DoI poster he can't go back to his own house. The DoI goes through a lot of duress during its time out in the real world and it's truly amazing it made it back in one piece. Using lemon juice and heat, they find some clues on the back. But instead of a map like they thought they would find, it's a bunch of numbers that pertain to some letters written by Benjamin Franklin that are important to the case. The letters, which Ben's father used to own, have now been donated to the Franklin Institute in Philadelphia.

The clues and many different cities they visit (D.C., Philly, New York, Boston) reminds me of Where in the World is Carmen Sandiego?, only the version where you're trying to find her in the U.S., which isn't as fun. There's a scene where they go to an Urban Outfitters in Philly to buy new clothes so they won't look so conspicuous in their fancy gala clothes. Right out in the open, when they're buying their clothes, they're talking about the clues. I'm surprised nobody gave them any odd looks. I mean, if you were in an Urban Outfitters and heard three adults talking about going to the Liberty Bell to find the next clue that will lead to long-lost treasure, wouldn't you be a little suspicious?

The clue leads them to a brick in the wall where Ben finds these old-fashioned spectacles used to look at the map and find the next clue. I can't remember exactly where in the movie Nicolas Cage says this, but there's a scene where he finds a clue and he says, "Can it really be that simple?" Everything leading to the clue is just so ridiculously easy, it's almost laughable. But it is a Disney family film, so the best thing is to just enjoy the ride.

Right on their heels is Ian and his cronies. Ben wants them to split up so Ian can't have the DoI and glasses at the same time because they need both to decipher the next clue. He takes the glasses and Riley and Abigail take the DoI. This thing gets drug through the streets of Philly and into a meat market. True, it's in a protective tube, but still. Ian apprehends the DoI and he also kidnaps Ben's father as a hostage in order to get the glasses.

An FBI agent played by Harvey Keitel has captured Ben and tells him he has two options: he can either go to jail or he can tell them where they can find the DoI and go to jail, knowing he did the right thing. Ben escapes and ends up in New York to join the search for the treasure which Ian and his cronies have now joined. The next clue is underneath the Trinity Church and they are all on this rickety makeshift elevator and one of the no-name bad guys falls off and plunges into this never ending abyss of darkness. Where did this chasm come from? All the characters are trying to jump to safety and there's a moment where Ben, holding on to the arm of a dangling Abigail, has to decide between saving her or saving the DoI which is now starting to slip from his shoulder. (Oh yeah, I should mention, Ben got it back). He asks Abigail if she trusts him and lets go of her once he's sure she'll land on a platform a few feet below them. He apologizes later for dropping her and she assures him it's okay and that she would have done the same thing. Can you imagine how much sh*t he would have been in if he had let the Declaration of Independence fall into a deep abyss of darkness? History would be lost forever! FOR-EV-ER!

Ben and his father tell Ian and his cronies that the next clue is in Boston because of the lantern they see. Leaving Ben, Ben's father, Abigail, and Riley, Ian and his cronies start to go back up on the makeshift elevator, leaving the others without any way to get back up. They start protesting, but it's really a non-issue, because surprise! Ben gave them a decoy answer and the next clue is actually right where they are! Who didn't see that coming? They find a huge room (seriously, this thing must have been five football fields long!) filled with treasure after treasure after treasure. There are mummies! Scrolls from the Library of Alexandria! An important looking medallion! And lots of other stuff! And, most importantly, there are stairs to an exit.

Ben calls the police and hands back the DoI to Keitel, who, in return tells him that someone has to go to jail. Ben offers him a bribe of ten billion dollars and tells him he can get him the real bad guy who's in Boston where they arrest Ian and his cronies. Poor Sean Bean. But at least he didn't die this time!

The priceless artifacts have been donated to museums all over the world. There's a joke that Ben and Riley, who are credited with finding the treasure, only got one percent of the profits and Riley is complaining about that while driving a fancy convertible and tells Ben he could have bought a bigger house and the camera pans back to show a huge mansion. Haha, even with only one percent, they still got a ton of money. Bring on National Treasure 3! 

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